In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both Republicans and Democrats are responding to America's opioid addiction crisis with a sense of urgency. But they still can't agree on how much money should be spent on drug treatment programs, and the impasse is putting legislation to deal with the problem in jeopardy.
On Wednesday, members of Congress met to review several opioid-related bills that have passed with large bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate. The aim was to put together a single piece of legislation, but some Republicans want the funding for the bill to be sorted out later, when the new fiscal year begins in October.
For others, the worsening opioid situation is too urgent to wait. The most recent federal data shows that about two-thirds of the 47,000 Americans who died from drug overdoses in 2014 were taking opioids. According to federal data from 2014, 89 percent of Americans with drug addiction problems didn't receive treatment, either for financial or stigma reasons.
Democrats and the Obama administration have vowed to fight any bill that does not contain substantial funding to beef up resources for addicts. The White House is seeking $1.1 billion specifically for additional treatment funding. Democrats have called for $920 million in additional treatment funding.
In the meantime, the Obama administration has charged ahead with a set of executive actions to combat the epidemic.
On Tuesday, the White House unveiled new rules that would make it easier for doctors to prescribe the medication buprenorphine to help wean addicts off of heroin and painkillers. Buprenorphine, sold under the brand name Suboxone, is an opioid that can ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings without getting users high. Under the new rules, as many as 70,000 additional people will have access to the drug, tripling the number of patients that previous rules allowed. Doctors can now prescribe the drug to a maximum of 275 patients, up from 100.
White House drug czar Michael Botticelli has estimated that an average of 129 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.
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